Saturday, August 13, 2022
On the reality of higher worlds
Rudolf Steiner, Christiania, Norway, November 25, 1921:
Let me first of all express regret that I am unable to speak to you in your own language. As this is not possible, I must ask to be allowed to deliver the lecture in German.
To begin with, I want to express my heart-felt thanks for the cordial and friendly words of greeting. I only hope that I shall be able, in some measure, to fulfil the task which lies in front of me. I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity given me by the students here to say something about anthroposophical Spiritual Science. [This lecture was given in answer to an invitation from an association of students in Christiania. It was held in the largest hall — the “Missionhaus” in Christiania, seating some 2,000 people.] After many long years of work in this domain of knowledge, I know well how difficult it is to make Spiritual Science to some extent intelligible to modern civilisation and culture, and I know, too, how easily misunderstandings arise. For these reasons I want to express very special gratitude to the students by whom the invitation was issued. I attach great importance to the fact that here too, as in other countries, students are beginning to pay some attention to anthroposophical Spiritual Science.
The wish was expressed that this lecture should deal with the theme of the reality of the higher worlds. As all my writings for many, many years have been concerned with answering this very question, you will realise that one brief lecture is foredoomed to be both inadequate and incomplete. My endeavour must be to indicate by certain guiding lines, how the higher worlds can become a reality. Obviously I shall be unable to-day — it may be possible to speak more fully elsewhere during the next few days (Cp.: Paths to Knowledge of Higher Worlds 26th November, 1921) — to bring before you anything in the nature of convincing proof; all that I can do is to indicate the lines and directions along which proof may be found. Anthroposophical Spiritual Science cannot speak of the reality of higher worlds without pointing to the paths leading to this reality, and there is no desire whatever to set these paths in opposition to what has been achieved in so admirable a way by the scientific strivings, the scientific spirit of the last few centuries.
It is the conviction of anthroposophical Spiritual Science that doubts cast from one side or another upon the scientific exactitude of its research are based entirely upon misunderstanding. Anthroposophy does not wish to be a matter of amateurish talk but a path of knowledge along which the higher, super-sensible worlds are approached with the same scientific exactitude the same methodical and disciplined thought with which natural science has for so long approached the laws of Nature.
If, however, the aim is to reach the super-sensible worlds with the same strict exactitude with which natural science reaches its results, it is necessary both in regard to the results themselves and the methods of investigation, to go beyond what is universally recognised as ‘scientific’ today. Anthroposophical Spiritual Science is founded upon the same fundamental principles which have helped to make modern science great. Modern science has achieved greatness through scrupulous observation of the material world, through experiment, through the reasoned deliberation of what is yielded by sense-observation and experiment. While going beyond the results as well as the actual modus operandi of authentic scientific research today, anthroposophical Spiritual Science wishes to proceed hand-in-hand with everything that can be learnt from modern research.
This ‘going beyond’ is founded primarily upon the knowledge that man’s power of investigation, in so far as it has developed in the sphere of natural science, comes up against certain boundaries. Every scientific researcher is aware that the great problem concerning the eternal nature of the soul — it is usually known as the problem of immortality, of destiny, in the widest sense, therefore, as the problem of the higher worlds — every scientific researcher is aware that this problem lies beyond the boundaries of modern science. Moreover it is recognised that the whole mode of thinking, the faculty of cognition, the power of knowledge itself, have all been evolved from investigation of the material world of sense and that at a certain point an impassable barrier is reached. Anthroposophy is in complete accord with modern scientists when it is a matter of affirming that these boundaries do indeed exist, so far as the everyday consciousness of man is concerned.
In the realm of philosophy, of course, many endeavours have been made to overstep these boundaries. But nothing that the intellect or the human heart can conjecture about what lies on yonder side of the world of the senses can stand the test of searching examination; the inadequacies of such conjectures are betrayed above all in that they reach into a void. The intellect feels that it is dependent upon what the senses communicate and that whenever it would like to pierce through the tapestry of the material world, no content remains in the field of ordinary consciousness.
Men of deep feeling, who try to justify their needs of soul and spirit before the tribunal of science, who are not content to resign themselves to mere belief but who want to have knowledge of things transcending the temporal — such men are very often apt today to take refuge in a kind of mysticism. They believe that what external science is unable to give them is to be found by plunging into the depths of the life of soul. They believe that evidence of the eternal significance of the human soul, of the links connecting the soul with the world of Divine Spirit can stream up from the deep places of the heart.
But with this kind of mysticism no really profound science of the soul can concur, cognisant as it is of all the hidden paths of the human faculty of remembrance, of memory. The ordinary consciousness has, of course, its stores of memories which it calls up again and again because this is necessary for a healthy life of soul. But deep down, mingling with these memories and remembrances, lie many factors which, in their real nature, cannot be surveyed by the ordinary consciousness. Many a mystic unearths from the depths of the soul, things which he regards as revelations from higher worlds, whereas to one possessed of real knowledge they may be merely impressions made upon a long past childhood by the material world of sense.
A genuine investigator knows that what is absorbed unconsciously in early childhood undergoes many metamorphoses and that it can reappear in later life in a different form. Many a man believes that in mystical experience he has discovered a spark of the Divine within him, whereas what he has drawn up from the depths of his soul is nothing else than stimuli received during childhood, appearing in a different form.
These are the two pitfalls lying ahead of us when, in our longing to find the reality of the higher worlds, we embark upon serious and genuine investigation. The true investigator must be on his guard on the one side against a philosophy which tries merely by intellectual deduction and speculation to pierce through the external world of sense to a kind of “Beyond,” and, on the other, against a form of mysticism which simply calls up memories in a different garb from the depths of the human heart. In both directions he comes up against insurmountable barriers: on the one side the material world of sense which ordinary consciousness cannot break through, and on the other, the human side, the storehouse of memories which must be present in any healthy life of soul and which forms a boundary interiorly — a boundary which again the ordinary consciousness cannot cross except it be through illusions and fantasies.
The aim of anthroposophical research is to avoid both these pitfalls and to attain true and genuine knowledge of the higher, super-sensible worlds. Hence in all honesty and frankness it asserts that the faculties of cognition operating in ordinary life and ordinary science will inevitably come up against these boundaries and are incapable of penetrating through them into the higher worlds. Anthroposophical Spiritual Science therefore sets out to awaken faculties slumbering in the soul of which the ordinary consciousness is unaware, and to embark upon investigation into the reality of higher worlds only when these faculties have undergone due development. This kind of investigation into the things of the Spirit does not take its start from anything that is nebulous or mystical; it takes its start from faculties of ordinary life, but transforms them, makes them essentially different.
The first faculty to which the attention of the bona fide spiritual investigator must be directed is that of remembrance, of memory, within those boundaries and limits of which mention has been made. This faculty of remembrance enables us to call up, either involuntarily or at will, pictures of our life since birth, or rather since a point of time shortly after birth. Unlike ordinary psychology, Anthroposophy takes full account of all the implications here and tries by deliberate efforts of will to bring ideas, mental pictures, concepts, thought-content, into the centre of the consciousness — which, in other circumstances, occurs only by the exercise of the faculty of memory and recollection. Anthroposophy sets out to develop a first, elementary faculty of higher knowledge in this way, by means of certain exercises carried out by the faculty of thinking. Anthroposophy does not, however, content itself with the faculty of thinking which comes to expression in ordinary memory, but goes on beyond this — not to the arbitrary meditation often cited by nebulous mysticism, but to inwardly disciplined, systematic meditation.
My task today is to indicate the principles of this subject: fuller and more precise details are to be found in my books,Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, An Outline Of Occult Science, and others. It is only possible now to indicate certain fundamental guiding-lines for a study which will have to be pursued for many years. The point of importance is that the faculty of thinking in man is developed to a greater strength and intensity than it possesses in ordinary life and in ordinary science.
When in some piece of work a muscle has to be constantly exerted, its power is strengthened. The would-be spiritual investigator proceeds in the same way with respect to the forces of the soul. He places some mental picture, idea or set of ideas of which he can maintain a complete survey, deliberately and as a free act of will at the centre of his consciousness, and dwells upon it for a certain length of time. Some people will require more time, others less, according to their faculties and their capacity for concentration.
Please note — for it is a very important point — that I am speaking of pictures of which a complete survey can be maintained. If anything from our store of ordinary memories were to be brought up into this meditation or these exercises of thinking, we should be led astray. For the storehouse of thought contains many reminiscences, many unconscious impressions received from life which would have their effect during the exercises. Nothing whatever must be allowed to work from the Unconscious into true anthroposophical meditation; a complete survey must be maintained and everything must be subject to conscious deliberation. Therefore the demand is sometimes made, and with good reason, that one who aims at becoming an actual investigator in Spiritual Science shall ask already experienced investigators to recommend certain exercises. When such exercises are practised — we may have evolved them ourselves or they may have been given to us — they enter the consciousness as something new — like a sense-experience that is not recollected but enters the soul as something quite new. The point of importance is not that we acquire anything from the actual content of the picture or combination of pictures, but that it comes into our consciousness with all the newness and freshness of a sense-experience and that we dwell upon it with our forces of soul. Just as we execute some piece of work by using a muscle, so do we exert the forces of the soul when we dwell upon the picture or idea with sustained and deliberate concentration. If care is taken to observe all the details of the exercises described in my books, there will be no danger of succumbing to anything in the nature of suggestion or auto-suggestion; every moment of the exercise will be filled with a conscious activity of will and after a time we shall feel that the powers of our soul are being strengthened and enhanced.
It is not necessary to devote a great deal of time each day to these exercises but they must be repeated over and over again. One person will need a lengthy period, another may achieve considerable success in a few months; others again will need years. The principle, however, is the same throughout: the forces of soul, the forces of thought, are inwardly strengthened by the exercises, until finally a point is reached where the advance is made to Imaginative Thinking, Imagination.
I have called this development ‘Imaginative Thinking’ because one becomes aware by degrees that thought is getting free from the abstraction and intellectualism with which it is fraught in ordinary life and ordinary science. Pure thought begins gradually to be lit by a picture-content, warmed through by glowing life, as real in every respect as the pictures and inner vitality produced by external sense-impressions.
It is very important to remember this, for we all of us know that when our attention is directed to external sense-impressions, everything teems, is saturated, has great intensity; our whole being is given up to these sense-impressions. But if, having turned our attention away from these outer sense-impressions, we engage in the kind of thinking that is usual in ordinary life and science, this thought is colourless, has little warmth. There is good reason for speaking of the colourlessness, the ‘pale cast’ of abstract thought. And nearly all the thinking that goes on in ordinary life and science is abstract. Only those thoughts which arise in moments when we are caught up in the outer reality of the world of sense — only those thoughts teem with content. The glowing life and teeming content in what is, at first, a purely inward experience, however, can only be reached by the exercising and strengthening of thought in the way I have indicated. Then we begin, in very truth, to think in pictures, in Imaginations.
But one point must be quite clear. In this Imaginative Thinking we have at first nothing either before us or within us that amounts to external, spiritual reality. The objective significance of this Imaginative Thinking is gradually brought home to us, however, when we grasp the following: —
Everyone knows how in a tiny child the brain develops by degrees into the marvellous organ it eventually becomes in the course of life. It can be said with truth that, to begin with, the brain is a plastic organ, allowing the formative forces of the soul to express themselves in its whole structure, its convolutions and so forth. This process is at work during earliest childhood; it comes to a halt at a certain point — a point reached as a result of natural development and ordinary education. With what has thus been acquired, we try to meet the demands of every-day life, and to make progress in ordinary science. But in that, as children, we have developed from year to year, we have acquired greater and greater capacities.
In striving for Imaginative Knowledge we again become aware of this increasing capacity. We realise that through the activity which consists in the exercising of thought, something that is now plastic within us is being worked upon, elaborated. But we feel, too, that what is thus being worked upon — as it were ploughed and furrowed in the life of soul-and-spirit just like the physical brain in the child — we feel that this is something super-sensible, something of the nature of soul-and-spirit within the human being which transcends the physical body. After a time we feel that the outer and inner boundaries of knowledge can now be faced in an entirely different way. As a spiritual scientist one has to admit that those who speak of such boundaries do so with good reason, but one also feels that little by little these boundaries of knowledge can actually be crossed with the help of newly developed faculties.
When a man has reached this stage, when he actually feels: now I no longer need to come to a halt within the material world of sense, for now, by means of this living, pictorial thinking, I experience something real when I pierce through the material world and also when I gaze into my own being; I experience something that is beyond the range of natural science and that mysticism can only call up in illusory form ... When a man has this experience as a result of genuine inner development, he may be sure that he is treading a path which will lead him to the reality of the higher worlds.
To begin with, nothing that can be said to be an external reality lies before the soul; the old forces have simply been strengthened, intensified. But before long it will be noticed that something very significant is happening in the field of consciousness. An inner tableau arises, encompassing the whole of life since birth. This, indeed, is the first super-sensible reality to be experienced: a man’s own inner life since birth is presented in a tableau of which complete survey can be maintained. And the result is that the relation of the thinking to what is now an objective perception is different from the relation it previously bore both to external actuality and to inner experiences. In everyday life the human being unfolds the activity of thinking. He thinks about something or other; the thoughts themselves are within the soul — they are subjective. The object is outside. A man feels that his thoughts are separated from what is outside. He now has before him the tableau of his own life of soul since birth. But his thoughts enter as it were into the very tissue of which the tableau is woven; he feels himself to be in and part of it. He feels: now for the first time I am beginning to grasp the reality of my own being; I must yield up my thinking to what thus arises objectively before my consciousness. This, to begin with, constitutes an experience that is fraught with pain; but such experiences are essential and the Spiritual Scientist must not be afraid of having to endure them. I shall speak of this again, in a different connection.
To begin with, this tableau of life causes us to feel our innermost Self under a kind of oppression; the lightness and ease with which, in other circumstances, thoughts, ideas, feelings, impulses of will, wishes and the like, arise, seems to have departed and we feel our own being as it were under a load, constricted. But to put it briefly: in this very experience of oppression we begin to be aware of reality. If there is no sense of oppression, we have merely a thought-edifice, not reality at all. But if we bring into the sphere of this oppression all that was previously within us in the form of freely unfolding thought, we are protected from the danger of illusions, visionary experiences or hallucinations in our Imaginative Knowledge.
It is often said that the exercises recommended by anthroposophical Spiritual Science produce nothing but visions and hallucinations, that they simply bring suppressed nerve-forces to the surface, and that nobody can prove the reality of these higher worlds of which Spiritual Science speaks. Yet anyone who pays attention merely to what I have said to-day, will realise that the path taken by anthroposophical Spiritual Science is the antithesis of all the paths which lead to visions, hallucinations, or mediumship.
Everything that leads to mediumship, to hallucinations or visions, proceeds, fundamentally, from diseased bodily organs which as it were breathe their psycho-spiritual content into the consciousness in a pathological way. All these things lie below the level of sense-experience. Imaginative Knowledge, on the contrary, lies in a realm transcending sense-perception and is developed from objectivity, not from pathological inner conditions.
To describe as pathological the methods of anthroposophical research denotes complete misunderstanding, for the very reverse is the truth. Because Imaginative Knowledge is attained in full and free consciousness, it is possible to recognise hallucinations and manifestations of mediumship for what they really are. Nobody will reject these psychopathic manifestations more strongly than one who has not, like the visionary, submerged his life of soul in the body, but who has made it free of the body through the efforts described and who is able to survey his own life back to birth, to begin with, in the tableau of which I have spoken.
In this tableau — as I have said, it is a reality — we know that we have something consisting, not merely of thoughts, but of the living forces which have been working at the upbuilding of our organism since the beginning of earthly life. The Imagination that has here taken shape is actually the sum-total of the forces by means of which we grow, the sum-total of the forces which work, also, in the process of nourishment.
To what is here discovered as an active, super-sensible reality in the being of man, anthroposophical Spiritual Science gives the name of the ether body, or the body of formative forces.
As you see, a higher member of man’s being, a super-sensible member which works at the forming of the earthly body, is discovered methodically and systematically. And because in the tableau that has arisen, our thoughts do not roam hither and thither in the wonted fashion but the oppression makes us feel the reality — because of this we realise that what we are there beholding inwardly is none other than the forces working actively in the organism — in other circumstances, unconsciously.
The super-sensible ether-body or life-body spoken of by anthroposophical Spiritual Science is not an artificial creation of fantasy; neither is it the antiquated and hypothetical ‘life-force’ which scientific thought has rightly abandoned. The ether-body is a reality to the now strengthened and enhanced power of thinking — it is a reality just as the external world of sense is reality. And we are led to it, not by any kind of nebulous mysticism but by a strengthening and energising of the normal faculty of thinking which has been enhanced to the level of a free ‘I.’ Such is the development which brings this first reality before the soul.
But as at this first stage we are simply surveying a tableau of our own earthly life through the flow of time, further progress must be made along the path to the super-sensible worlds. This is achieved through exercises whereby yet other powers slumbering in the soul are brought into operation. You all know that in human life, as well as the faculty of remembrance, the capacity to retain ideas and mental pictures, there also exists the capacity to forget. In ordinary life, to our sorrow, forgetting often comes very easily to us. But a man who lives a great deal in the world of thought knows only too well that thoughts can also torment, that effort is needed to get rid of them. This demands very great efforts in the systematic meditation here described, when we are trying to develop deep, inward thinking.
When the consciousness is focused upon certain images and the forces of this mental presentation are strengthened, the images are loathe to take their departure. They press in upon us and allow themselves to be eliminated only when we train ourselves systematically and consciously to do this. If I may speak rather paradoxically, we must as it were train ourselves in a deliberate forgetting, a deliberate elimination of images which want to remain.
In the books mentioned I have described in detail many exercises for strengthening the power of eliminating mental images. When these exercises have been practised for a long time, the point is reached where, in full waking alertness, we can empty our consciousness entirely.
What has here been said is by no means as unessential as might appear. In ordinary life it is the case that efforts to empty the consciousness altogether send most people to sleep after a short time. Now it is even more difficult to empty the consciousness when, as the result of meditation, it has been filled with intensified images. Nevertheless this must be practised. Thereby we succeed little by little in suppressing not only single images, in emptying them out of our consciousness, but, after sustained effort, in effacing the whole tableau of life of which I have spoken. Practically the whole of our life is presented to us in a tableau, as it were in space that has become time, or time that has become space. The exercises gradually give us the power to eliminate the whole of this tableau from our consciousness; it was there before us but we are able now to empty our consciousness and yet to be fully awake and alert.
This is a very important step on the path to the reality of the higher worlds. For when the consciousness, having first been filled with the tableau of life, with perception of the ether-body, has been completely emptied, we are not confronting a void. True, we recognise that the material world of sense is no longer around us ... it is no more around us than it is in deep, dreamless, sleep ... but a world we have not previously known, a world of super-sensible beings and super-sensible happenings springs up before us. This is what happens after the life-tableau has been eliminated from our consciousness. It is absurd to say that what springs into view after all these efforts may simply be reminiscences of life, or illusions. Anyone who genuinely experiences it knows that reality is before him as surely as he knows that the external, material world is reality.
The essential point, however, is that when a man becomes prone to hallucinations and visions he loses his ordinary, normal consciousness; he lives in his hallucinations and his powers of thoughtful deliberation have departed. A man who has developed his faculties in the way I have described loses nothing at all of his healthy human reason, none of his powers of thoughtful deliberation. All the faculties that were formerly his, remain, and he can at any moment turn his gaze from the vista of the super-sensible worlds before him. Just as he can look back upon a memory, so he can at any moment, and at will, look back to what formed part of his consciousness in ordinary life or in ordinary science. Therefore a man who is developing in this way can fill his whole perception of the super-sensible world with conscious thinking, with his thinking that is now permeated with will. He can speak of the super-sensible world with the same reasoned clarity and intelligibility with which ordinary science speaks of the material world. And because he describes these higher worlds with normal reasoning powers and scientific method, anyone who exercises the faculty of healthy human intelligence can follow what is said, even if he is not himself an investigator in the anthroposophical sense of the word. This is not necessary, because the true anthroposophical investigator brings the faculty of healthy human reason into play in whatever knowledge he unfolds of the higher worlds. The knowledge he communicates must be in a form that is intelligible at every point to ordinary healthy human reason and discrimination. This holds good not only at the stage of Imaginative Thinking, through which, to begin with, the tableau of earthly life is all that rises up, but it also holds good at the further stage of knowledge of which I have just spoken and have called in my books, Knowledge through Inspiration, or Inspired Knowledge.
I would ask you not to allow these terms to be a stumbling block. They contain no element of superstition or antiquated tradition, but are used purely in connection with what I have been describing. I speak of ‘Inspired Knowledge’ because just as the air from the outer world enters the breathing organs as a reality, so does the super-sensible world now flow into the world of the soul. Equipped with this Inspired Knowledge, the spiritual investigator is in the following position. He starts out with a normal content and constitution of soul; having once acquired the faculty of emptying his consciousness, it is possible for him to do so again, at will, no matter where he stands, in time or in space, no matter what the content of his consciousness happens to be.
Something is then revealed of the beings and the happenings of the super-sensible world. It is like an in-breathing, it is an Inspiration. The spiritual world is breathed into the ordinary world.
Again we must be capable of re-asserting normal consciousness, to judge this spiritual world with normal consciousness. There is a continual out-breathing and in-breathing of the spiritual world, and ever and again the return to ordinary consciousness which enables a man to exercise thoughtful judgment in respect, also, of these spiritual worlds.
What I am now going to say merely by way of comparison, may suggest to you that the use of the term Inspiration is justified. The spiritual investigator of today is not in a position to press onward to the super-sensible worlds in the way that was possible during earlier, prehistoric epochs in the evolution of humanity. The methods by which oriental peoples attained access to the higher worlds in olden times have persisted through tradition and even today are still practised over in Asia as a decadent form of Yoga, by men whose bodily constitution differs from ours in the West. Nothing of this kind could be beneficial to the West. It all takes places instinctively, unconsciously, whereas what I have been describing is carried out in full waking consciousness, under complete control of the will.
In a certain respect, nevertheless, something can be learnt from the way in which men strove, in those early epochs of instinctive consciousness, to gain access to the higher worlds and their workings. In the practise of Yoga, the man of ancient India set out to regulate his breathing — to breathe, not in the ordinary way, but deliberately and systematically; he transformed the ordinary mode of breathing, strove all the time to be fully conscious in and with his breathing, whereas of course ordinary breathing is an unconscious, purely organic process. In that he experienced this rhythm: In-breathing — Out-breathing ... In-breathing — Out-breathing ... the pupil of Yoga in olden times was transported into the rhythm of the worlds, of the Cosmos — and in the physical rhythm of the breath he made himself one with the spiritual rhythm of that in-breathing and out-breathing of the spiritual worlds which I have here described in the form in which it is suitable for the West.
In very truth we enter as it were into unison with a rhythm. Our existence as men of Earth can be inspired again and again, continuously, by a higher, super-sensible world. What is this super-sensible world, in reality?
Through Imaginative Cognition we have learnt to know the ether-body, the body of formative forces working in us during earthly existence. This body of formative forces has now been suppressed and a new world discovered. The world of sense is no longer immediately present — it is only a remembrance. In this new world, a higher reality is discovered, that higher reality which permeates and works in and through the ether-body or body of formative forces, just as the ether-body in turn permeates the physical body.
Again as the result of deliberate and systematic steps taken along the path to the higher realities and not of any play of fantasy, anthroposophical Spiritual Science speaks of the astral body of man which is thus discovered and which permeates the body of formative forces although its life lies in other worlds. And when we examine the worlds in which this astral body lives with the ‘I’ — just as man lives as a corporeal being among the things of the material world — we discover the world of soul-and-spirit from which the human being descends when through birth or conception, he unites with the physical substance provided by the father and mother. In direct perception — which, as I have said, will stand the test of healthy human reason — the eternal, immortal core of man’s being is discovered.
Many people take offence today when instead of speaking in generalisations like the pantheists, of an undefined, all-pervading world of Spirit, specific description is given of a world of soul-and-spirit whence man has descended into physical existence through birth and whither he returns on passing through the Gate of Death — a world that is discovered as a reality, not through speculation or nebulous, mystical feeling, but through a strictly disciplined mode of perception. Offence is caused when these worlds are described as I have described them, for example, in my Outline Of Occult Science. Let me try to explain by means of a simple comparison how it is actually possible to describe these worlds.
Think of your ordinary memory, of your remembrance. — What are you experiencing there? One thing or another has happened to you in the course of life. What has long since become the past, has long ago ceased to be an external reality, stands before you in a memory-picture. From this picture you reconstruct the experience. It passed into you, as it were, from the external world, has become part of the content of your soul. Out of the content of the soul it is possible at any moment to reconstruct the whole world of remembrances, the whole world of external experiences with which existence is interwoven. The inner world is laid hold of, comprised within the life of thought, of feeling, of will. In laying hold of the inner life, the world of external experiences is conjured up before the soul. But what is it that is grasped by means of Imagination and Inspiration?
With Imagination and Inspiration we comprehend not merely what has been absorbed during earthly life, but we comprehend man in his whole being. We learn to know how the body of formative forces, remaining as a unity through the whole of life, works in the human organs; how in a world of soul-and-spirit before birth or conception, the astral body bears the eternal core of our being, how this astral body penetrates into and works within us. The whole nature and being of man becomes clearly perceptible. His physical nature is recognised as the product of the Spiritual. Just as we look into our store of remembrances and reconstruct earthly life in pictures, so, when we now look still more deeply inwards, grasping not merely the psycho-spiritual content implanted in the course of ordinary life, but recognising how our organs have been created, how ether-body, astral and ‘I’ are woven into the physical body — then we can transfer ourselves with opened eyes of soul, into the great arena of cosmic experiences, cosmic happenings, just as remembrances bear us into our ether-body. For man was always present in whatever has come to pass in the universe with which his being is united, be it in the realm of spirit, of soul, or in the physical sphere. And when, in the way described, he beholds himself in his own true being and nature, he can recognise the events whereby his evolution through history and within the Cosmos has been made possible.
Those who grasp the full import of these thoughts will no longer consider it peculiar when, in my Outline Of Occult Science, they find descriptions of how the human being, in his primeval forms, was connected not only with the Earth but with planetary worlds which, as earlier metamorphoses, preceded the Earth, and how the very make-up and constitution of the human being points to future transformations of the Earth into other planetary conditions; how it is possible really to penetrate into higher worlds and to recognise the kingdoms around us as men of Earth as the product of higher, spiritual worlds, super-sensible worlds.
It is only right that the strenuous efforts which anthroposophical Spiritual Science must make to achieve these results should be known and understood. There is a very prevalent opinion that what spiritual research says about the reality of higher worlds is merely the result of some form of ‘inspiration,’ so-called, or of subjective, intellectual deduction, or even of pure fantasy. Indeed it is not so. Clinical research, astronomical research, for example, demands specialised and difficult work. But what is acquired inwardly in the way described, learnt as it were from man’s own being by inner experimentation in order to unfold perception of higher worlds — this is an even more difficult task, demanding greater devotion, greater care, greater exactitude and methodical perseverance. What is here described in all seriousness as Spiritual Science is fundamentally different from current forms of Occultism, Mysticism and the like. As science stands in contrast with superstition, so does anthroposophical Spiritual Science stand in contrast with current forms of Occultism which try to acquire knowledge through mediums or by compiling external, sensational data in amateurish fashion. This particular brand of modern superstition is vanquished by nothing more decisively than by genuine spiritual research, with its absolutely scrupulous and exact methods.
When, having acquired Knowledge through Inspiration, a man is able to gaze into the world he left at birth or conception and will enter again after death, he experiences something which in its reflection in the ordinary consciousness seems to be a kind of pessimism. — In the realm of ordinary consciousness, after all, anything super-sensible assumes the form of indefinite, inchoate feelings and the like. — The experiences which come to the spiritual investigator through Inspiration seem to take the form of pessimism. Why pessimism? Because it is actually the case that when the spiritual investigator enters the higher worlds, he experiences something like deep pain, universal privation.
By means of the exercises indicated in my books, we must be armed against this pain, be ready to bear it valiantly and resolutely. What, then, is this pain that is experienced in all reality? It is actually a deep and intense longing, it is none other than experience of that force whereby the soul passes from the spiritual worlds through birth into physical existence. The soul has been living in spiritual worlds, and the last period of this life, before the descent through birth into physical existence, is experienced as a yearning for the physical world. This yearning subsequently becomes the pain experienced by the spiritual investigator. And precisely because experiences in the realm of Spiritual Science are not abstract or theoretical and because the whole being of man is involved, including his feeling and willing, this pain is an essential part of the path leading into the higher worlds.
Theorising is by no means sufficient when it is a matter of treading the anthroposophical path into the spiritual worlds. The experiences which accompany the methods employed by genuine investigation demand, at every stage, due moral preparation. And there is really no better preparation for the moral strengthening of man in body, soul and spirit, than practise of the exercises leading to knowledge of the reality of the higher worlds. They will never reveal themselves to one who merely theorises, but only to one who devotes his whole manhood to quickening in the soul all his faculties of good feeling, of appreciation of beauty in the world, his power of reverent contemplation of the secrets of the Universe. Only he who makes love of men and love of worlds into forces of inner, all-permeating warmth, achieves the moral strength that is necessary in order to press forward to the reality of higher worlds.
Many will admit, therefore, that the exercises I describe for the path to the higher worlds taken by Spiritual Science, have a moral side that is genuinely worthy of recognition. This will be admitted, too, by those who fall away and are not willing to tread the actual path to knowledge of the higher worlds. Yet it is this path alone which, in face of the modern longing for science, can lead into these worlds.
Through Imagination and Inspiration a man reaches his innermost Self. But this innermost Self must also surrender itself to the world around. I have already explained that thinking, even at the stage of Imagination, must flow outwards, into what is objective. Thinking, deliberate and disciplined thinking, is always in operation in our discovery of higher worlds; but we must also be aware that our whole being has, as it were, to be given over to this reality of the super-sensible worlds. After the attainment of Inspiration, however, through the efforts made and the experiences undergone, we become aware of the ‘I,’ the central core of our being, in all intensity. And this is the point at which the harmony, the union between the experience of freedom and that of nature-necessity can be realised and known.
In ordinary life we are enclosed in the web of this nature-necessity. How often we feel that what is living in our impulses of will surges up from subconscious depths, from instincts and natural urges, even when it has worked itself a little way out of the sinful in the direction of the good. It is almost as impossible to survey what is working in the urges and impulses of the will as it is to survey the experiences undergone during sleep. And after all, in the urges and impulses of the will, there is contained much that plays into our life of conscious, moral responsibility.
A man who has achieved Inspiration and Imagination however, has been strengthened by his efforts and exertions. He experiences the ‘I’ in far greater intensity — given over to the world, it is true, yet restored to his keeping. Such a man will not say with those who adhere to prejudiced scientific views: the same nature-necessity which causes the stone to fall to the ground, the stone in turn to be warmed by the sun, the nature-necessity which inheres in electricity, in magnetism, in acoustic and optical phenomena — that same necessity is at work when, as a human being, I act and unfold my impulses of will. Indeed in ordinary science and everyday life men cannot get rid of the gnawing doubts which assail them in connection with this problem.
On the one side there is the reality of human freedom. But the conviction is prevalent that this freedom must be renounced if one is a scientist in the modern sense, believing in the conservation of energy and matter and holding the view that no impulse of the human will, no human action can emanate from free will, since man, in common with all other creatures in the kingdoms of nature, must be subject to the domination of nature-necessity.
But with his true ‘I’ before him in greater strength and intensity, man acquires a kind of knowledge still higher than Inspiration and Imagination. I have called this still higher form of knowledge, true Intuition, for it denotes complete emergence in spiritual reality. At this stage, the fact of man’s repeated earthly lives spoken of by Anthroposophy is filled with meaning. The necessity which seems to be implicit in a man’s actions, in his will, is recognised as the consequence of preceding lives on Earth. Man’s eternal core of being passes through repeated earthly lives, and between these lives — that is to say, between death and a new birth — leads an existence in worlds of soul and spirit. And now comes the knowledge: flowing from life to life there is the factor which entails subjection of the ‘I’ together with its impulses of will ... not, however, to external, nature-necessity but to the necessity which runs through the chain of earthly lives.
To begin with, this necessity is hidden from ordinary thinking. But when truly free, sense-free thinking as described in my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity is unfolded in a single earth-existence — with this kind of thinking we have the real foundation of our freedom, our free spiritual activity. In that we rise, as man, to these moral impulses which are seized by the free power of thought, we become free human beings here on the Earth. And what inheres in our existence in the form of necessity, living itself out as destiny — this is not nature-necessity but the necessity which runs through repeated earthly lives.
This too is revealed to Intuition, the third stage of super-sensible knowledge. There before us, presented in wonderful harmony, is the freedom inherent in a single earthly life, and what we feel to be the necessity of destiny — which is not external, nature-necessity, nor due to the normal constitution of the human body, but which streams in from earlier earthly lives. This no more makes us unfree than does a change of the stage on which our life takes its course, when circumstances are such as to make us still dependent upon the connection between this new life and the old. — If for example, we emigrate from Europe to America, the ship takes us thither and our life proceeds in a new setting. This is destiny; but in spite of having crossed from Europe to America, we remain free beings. Necessity and freedom can be differentiated when we perceive on the one side the necessity inhering in repeated earthly lives and, on the other, the freedom which is implicit in each single earthly life.
To look upwards into the higher worlds gives us security and confidence inasmuch as the purpose and meaning of earthly life become clear. We no longer merely yearn for higher worlds — although that too is necessary for any sense of security on the Earth. Earthly life becomes insecure if we lose our connection with the Divine-Spiritual within us.
True anthroposophical knowledge of the reality of higher worlds does not estrange us from the affairs of the Earth: we know that the descent to the Earth must be made over and over again in order that freedom may become an integral part of man’s estate. Conscious realisation of freedom permeates us in spite of our realisation of the problems of destiny, for we have learnt to understand these problems in their spiritual aspect, in the light of the reality of the higher worlds.
It has only been possible to give a very bare outline of this subject. Abundant literature exists today and is at the disposal of everybody. In one brief lecture I have only been able to indicate certain guiding lines, but what has been said will to some extent show you that anthroposophical knowledge of the super-sensible worlds has not the slightest tendency to be remote from the world, to be unpractical. It does not wish to lead human beings in their egotism into vapid castles in the air; on the contrary, it holds that to alienate a man from the world would be to sin against the Spiritual. The Spirit is only truly within our grasp when the flow of its power makes us practical and capable human beings.
The Spirit is creative; the mission of the Spirit is to permeate, not to escape from material existence. Anthroposophical knowledge of the super-sensible worlds is therefore at the same time a power in practical life. Hence — as I shall show in other lectures here in Christiania — Anthroposophy strives to enrich the several sciences, the life of art, as well the domains of practical life, with all that knowledge of the reality of higher worlds can add to the things of the material world.
As we have heard, Imaginative Knowledge reveals the ether-body, the body of formative forces. When, in the light of this knowledge, we understand the nature of the human bodily organisation, when we understand how the astral body which has descended from worlds of soul-and-spirit, works in man as an earthly being, in lung, liver, stomach, brain, and so forth ... then we understand the nature of health and illness. When this point is reached, our realisation of the higher worlds will have succeeded not merely in satisfying a need of knowledge, but actually in enriching medicine and therapy. In Stuttgart and in Dornach we already have clinics and institutes engaged in the practical application of the contributions which anthroposophical knowledge can make to medicine, to therapy — especially to therapy — but also to pathology. Anthroposophy strives, too, to make this knowledge of higher worlds bear fruit in the realm of art.
In the Goetheanum Building at Dornach, in the High School for Spiritual Science, a new style of architecture was created [See: Ways to a New Style in Architecture (with 12 illustrations of the first Goetheanum), by Rudolf Steiner.], out of anthroposophical principles. This new style of architecture has no sort of tendency towards the symbolic or the allegoric. Not a single symbol, not a single allegorical form will be found there; everything is the product of creative art in the truest sense. Spiritual Science is nottheory, it is not a matter merely of the intellect. The element of intellect dragged down into art would produce nothing but barren, allegorical symbolism, Spiritual Science leads to actual perception, to concrete understanding of the spiritual world. The content of the spiritual world can then be woven into the material world. In the highest degree we strive to fulfil Goethe’s demand, namely, that Art should be a manifestation of secret laws of Nature which, without her, could never bear fruit. And we are also endeavouring to develop an art of movement founded on the reality of the formative forces working supersensibly within the human being. This is Eurhythmy, a performance of which is to be given here next Sunday.
Eurhythmy is not an art of dancing, nor anything in the nature of mime; it is an art that has been brought down from the super-sensible into the material domain of man’s being; it gives expression to the intimate connection of the human being with the Cosmos and its laws, showing how in a ‘visible speech,’ secrets of the life of soul and spirit can be made manifest, as well as in audible speech or song.
Similarly, Spiritual Science can flow into the social life, the moral and ethical life. I have tried to show this in my book,The Threefold Commonwealth. The problems of the social life of men can never be adequately solved by Marxian or other materialistic theories. In his innermost existence man is a spiritual, super-sensible being, and as a social being, too, it is his task to give expression to the super-sensible in the domain of his social life. Failing this, the burning social questions of our time can never be fruitfully solved.
Finally, the path to higher worlds which anthroposophical Spiritual Science strives to tread by means of genuine research and not through mere belief — this path is connected with man’s deepest and most inward quest, with the bonds he tries in devotion and piety to forge with the Divine-Spiritual foundations of the Universe. In short, Spiritual Science is bound up with the deepest religious feelings arising in the human heart, with the religious life that must unfold if the true dignity of manhood is to be attained. And so anthroposophical knowledge of the super-sensible worlds is at the same time a quickening, an enrichment of the religious life, of which, as every unprejudiced mind will admit, we stand in dire need to-day.
It is well-nigh incomprehensible to me that again, quite recently, anthroposophical Spiritual Science should have been accused by theological circles of destroying the religious life. It has been said, for example: the life of Anthroposophy betokens the death of religion! Now the life of Anthroposophy is indissolubly bound up with that life of the soul in which the very deepest forces of religion unfold. This search for super-sensible realities cannot betoken the death of religion — at most it might betoken the end of something that is merely regarded as religion and is already dead. If, indeed, this is what has happened to religion, Anthroposophy would simply be opening up a vista of death. By its very nature, however, being a living path to the super-sensible realities, Anthroposophy is a means whereby the religious feelings, the whole-hearted devotion of men to the super-sensible worlds may be enhanced, quickened, pervaded with warmth. [Compare: Jesus or Christ, a lecture given by invitation in the Theolog. Verein, Christiania, 29th November, 1921.]
The goal of Anthroposophy is to work fruitfully in all the different spheres of life, from the secular to the most sacred. In the noblest sense — however far off achievement still lies today — the goal and ideal of Anthroposophy is to promote and be a real factor in the advancing evolution of mankind. And every unprejudiced person who has passed with alert consciousness through the catastrophic period of the second decade of the twentieth century, will admit that many, many spheres of existence today are calling out for new and vitalising impulses.
What I have put before you in such brief outline is connected with the eternal concerns of human life. Anthroposophy can be cultivated in the forum of life, where man does not always seem to demand that inner security which can only be found in consciousness of his eternal being; and it can be cultivated in quietude, away from the hubbub of the forum of life. The human being of every epoch must be in contact with the Eternal within him, if he would be truly Man. Thus Anthroposophy is of universal, vital interest to all men because it concerns the things that are Eternal in human existence. In our days, when the signs of decline are to be seen on every hand, it must surely be admitted, too, that there is need to counter the forces of decline with impulses for the ennobling of Western civilisation. Anthroposophy is worthy of attention today not only because it pays heed to the Eternal but also because of the difficult tasks confronting our times.
In conclusion, let me say this. — Unlike the current tendency to lead the human being to mystical castles in the air and thus to estrangement from the world, the aim of Anthroposophy is to lead him to the reality of the super-sensible worlds in such a way that having seized the Spirit he may take a real hand in the affairs of practical and material life. In very truth man must lay hold of the Spirit, for the reason that if his life is to rest upon sure foundations, contact with the super-sensible worlds and with the Eternal part of his being is all-essential. And nowadays, above all, man needs the Spirit for the solving of the hard and heavy problems which surround him in these catastrophic times.
Source: GA 79. November 25, 1921